When our family travels abroad, we like to live like the locals, which means we often choose boutique hotels in neighborhoods where we can blend in. Immersing ourselves in the culture of a city allows us a closer view onto the charms and eccentricities of the locale and its residents. We can get lost in the story of that place, pretending we’ve always belonged there.
When traveling with a family of four, however, it’s easier said than done. European hotels typically don’t have rooms large enough to accommodate both adults and kids, and connecting rooms are an American invention that rarely exists in historic buildings. This means you’re forced to book separate rooms.
I’m not comfortable with the thought of my kids in a room down the hall, left to their own devices. At every strange sound in the hallway, my imagination would conjure images from that Liam Neeson movie Taken.
On a recent trip to Barcelona, we opted for the separate-room scenario. The very charming Hotel 1898, chosen for its sweet location on La Rambla and robust history as a former cigar factory in the early 1900s, did not offer many room choices. We booked two rooms, each with a double bed (which in Europe means something cruelly smaller), and naively thought we would each take a kid, swapping nights back and forth, with one parent per kid in each room. Not so cozy, as it turned out. Tweens can be vicious kickers in their sleep. I have scars on my shins from my 11-year-old daughter that rival any hockey player’s.
"We booked two rooms...and naively thought we could each take a kid. Not so cozy, as it turned out. Tweens can be vicious kickers in their sleep. I have scars on my shins from my 11-year-old daughter that rival any hockey player’s."
It was an exhausting mistake we will not make again. We’ve learned how to find hotels that offer "family suites" and other similar options so we can all stay together comfortably. Harder to find in more traditional European options, family accommodations can often be uncovered by emailing the hotel directly rather than relying on their cryptic websites.
Or better yet, choose a well-known hotel brand like Hilton or Intercontinental that takes into consideration a wider range of needs. Historically, global hotel brands have not been known for customizing to the locale, though that’s changed dramatically in recent years. I wish we had known that when we visited Barcelona, since there are several authentic and uniquely designed branded hotels with family accommodations right up the street from where we stayed.
Next time, I guess (he says, rubbing the scars on his shin).
Jon Bailey is co-founder of i.d.e.a., a San Diego-based marketing agency. He also writes for Hilton Hotels’ Mom Voyage, a blog dedicated to family travel.